U.S. Health Journalists Get Failing Grade

A new study published in the Public Library of Science found that journalists are getting a failing grade in their coverage of the latest health treatments and interventions. The author of the study argues that consumers getting bad information from the mainstream media could be harmed.

"The stories that we reviewed for the most part paint a sort of kid-in-the-candy-store picture of the U.S. health care system, whereby everything looks terrific, everything looks risk-free and nothing has a price tag associated with it. And nothing could be further from the truth," says Gary Schwitzer, a University of Minnesota journalism professor who has spent the last two years rating the quality of health intervention stories and authored the analysis. More information about Schwitzer's research is available on his personal health blog.

Recently interviewed by Minnesota Public Radio, Schwitzer is most critical of the media’s failure to address cost and safety.

[C]ost is one of the most common omissions in reports on medical treatments. … [A] majority of the stories his team reviewed failed to adequately discuss the price a consumer might have to pay for a new drug, device or test. "Which is really unfathomable to me at a time when the U.S. is devoting 16 percent of the gross domestic product to health care spending and three-quarters of the news stories that we found don't adequately discuss cost," said Schwitzer.

[A]bout 65 percent of the medical stories didn't mention whether there was any possibility of harm associated with a particular treatment. Likewise, if the benefits of a procedure or product were small, he said most stories didn't note that either.

It’s a shame to see mainstream media failing to step up to the plate at a time when even the government can’t adequately address health care.

In the most recent issue of Newsweek, Jonathan Alter connects the dots between Ted Kennedy’s recent cancer diagnosis and Hamilton Jordan’s struggle with the disease. Jordan, a key figure in President Jimmy Carter’s campaign, died last week after surviving four different cancer diagnoses in 22 years.

Cancer is a disease with not enough hope and not enough money. ...[W]e spend more in six months in Iraq ($54 billion) than we've spent in 30 years on the National Cancer Institute, which funds most cancer research. Today, only two in 10 grant proposals from qualified researchers are funded by the NCI, which means that plenty of possible cures die for lack of funding.